Tuesday January 8, 2013

AUSTIN DANFORTH

Assistant Sports Editor

BENNINGTON -- The moment caught Heather Foley the first time she stepped up to the pool's edge as a Mount Anthony swimmer in the 200-yard Individual Medley.

"I started and I was so nervous for my first meet. I was like, ‘I don't think I can do this,'" Foley said.

An eighth-grader then, Foley has put countless laps between that debut and the present day, each, for the most part, a little quicker than the last.

"Now it's like 200 IM? Yeah," she said.

But today Foley, now the school record-holder in the event, and the rest of the Patriots' seniors begin the home stretch of their Mount Anthony swimming careers with their final home meet at the Bennington Recreation Center.

The MAU boys and girls, both 6-1, host Taconic at 4:30 p.m. with their eyes on taking the next step toward securing a Berkshire League Northern Division championship.

And while contender status is nothing new for the Patriot girls, who haven't finished with more than one loss since in a year since 2004, the boys are breaking new ground.

"The biggest factor is having all the new boys on the team," coach Anna Swierad said. "It's because of the numbers that we're competitive this year. The other teams don't have the numbers I have."

An influx of new seniors boosted the roster to 19 at the start of the season. The result has been unprecedented depth to complement swimmers like senior Robert Murphy and sophomore Ryan Spencer, both of whom routinely win multiple events each meet.

"I have three boys in each event -- and I've never been able to do that before. Never," Swierad said.

Murphy, who began swimming as a sophomore, won the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke in the Patriots last competition against Hoosac Valley. A Northern Division title would be the icing on a standout senior season.

"I would be ecstatic. The guys have never done that. That'd be awesome," Murphy said.

MAU finished with eight wins in 11 events, proof of the new swimmers' development. Seventh-grader Zachery LaForest and senior Isaiah Severs also had individual wins.

"A lot more guys came out and during captains' practice we really worked on getting their technique up to par and really focusing on getting the newer swimmers to be better," Murphy said. "I think that's really helped our team overall."

The Mount Anthony girls, four-time league champions, still have an outside shot at the overall league championship after a loss by Monument Mountain, the only team to beat them this season.

"Right now we would be tied with Monument Mountain because they only have one loss," Swierad said.

Even with a roster more than 30-strong, the Patriots also rely on senior Kate Montague, another five-year varsity swimmer like Foley.

"They bring confidence, they are excellent swimmers," Swierad said. "I'll say, ‘Kate, can you do this?' And she just does it."

Junior Kate Ahearn, who broke the school record in the 50 freestyle earlier this season, is another regular winner for MAU. The Patriots close the season with three road meets after what figures to be an emotional night at home.

"I guess it hasn't hit me yet, but I'm sure tomorrow will be like, ‘Oh my God, I'm going to cry.' It's going to be sad to be the last event [here]," Foley said.